Great destinations for bird watching in Uganda
Uganda is a diverse wildlife-viewing destination, and bird watching is no exception. There are 1075 different species within Uganda, with 150 that can only be found here. Uganda’s special location between the savannah, rainforest, and semi-desert makes it a friendly home to a variety of birds.
There are many parks and destinations in Uganda where a guide will be happy to help you bird-watch. Guide’s bird knowledge may vary, so make your interest known upfront when possible. Roadtrip Uganda can also offer car rental with a driver who is experienced and knowledgeable about birding. Although you can go on birding safaris – we also recommend just keeping your eyes open wherever you are in Uganda. It’s amazing what you can see simply walking around with an attentive eye.
What are the most Iconic Birds of Uganda?
These birds are not to be missed while travelling to Uganda. Their unique size, beaks, and plumage will make your road trip in Uganda even more unforgettable.
Ugandan Crane (Grey-crowned Crane)
Once you see this bird, you’ll immediately understand why it has such a majestic name. It stands one metre and weighs about 3.5 kilos. The grey crowned crane has an elaborate mating ritual involving dancing, bowing, and jumping. It’s bright red sac and crown of stiff feathers makes it a memorable sight. The crested crane is the national symbol of Uganda, depicted on the flag of Uganda.
Looking at the shoebill feels like you’ve stepped into Jurassic Park. With its massive beak and tall stature, it looks like a small dinosaur. Shoebills can be over one meter tall, and its large beak resembles a shoe (which explains the name). Although it’s called a stork, scientists say it’s more closely related to pelicans. It has beautiful slate-grey feathers and tends to stay still for long periods of time; this behaviour helps it catch fish.
Great Blue Turaco
The Great Blue Turaco are beautiful birds, maybe to their detriment. This bird is actively hunted for its colourful feathers and its meat. You might spot their bills first – they’re bright yellow with a red tip. Although it’d be a joy to see these birds soar through the air, their short and round wings that leave them gliding more than flying. You’ll be able to see them leap from one tree to the next.
Best destinations for bird watching in Uganda
If you’re a first-time visitor to Africa or an amateur bird-watcher, you’re better off avoiding dense forests where hearing birds is easier than seeing them.
- Kibale Rainforest – Kibale Forest is probably Uganda’s best birding destination. There are diverse birds to see, and the UWA guides at the park entrance are knowledgeable. The Bigodi Swamp Walk is particularly rewarding. The swamp sanctuary is home to the Great Blue Turaco and the rare Papyrus Gonolek, White-winged Warbler, White-collared Oliveback and Papyrus Canary. Bird watching tours start at 7 am at Kanyanchu; you are advised to book in advance. Ask the lodge you're staying at for the latest updates about bird watching tours.
- Bwindi & Lake Mutanda – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Lake Mutanda are great starting points for a bird-watching trek. Nkuringo Walking Safaris offers excellent guided nature walks and canoe excursions on Mutanda Lake, with the proceeds benefiting the local community. Mutanda Lake Resort also offers a great number of interesting activities, such as standup paddleboarding on the lake, a sunset boat ride, and birding walks. There’s a very big chance you’ll see Uganda’s crested crane.
- Entebbe – Because Entebbe is by Lake Victoria, you’ll be able to see water and forest birds. Spotting the ancient shoebill stork in Mabamba Swamp is possible by road, but better by canoe. Mabamba Shoebill Tours offer canoe rides that let you see the shoebill up close.
- Lake Mburo – Lake Mburo is home to many water and acacia-tree birds. Lake Mburo's swampy valleys, salt licks, and forest provide a variety of habitats for birdlife. You can hope to see the Rufous-bellied Heron, Bateleur, Black-bellied Bustard, Coqui Francolin, Grey Crowned Crane, and Brown-chested Lapwing.
- Queen Elizabeth National Park – Queen Elizabeth offers a wide variety of habitats and is home to over 600 bird species. Queen Elizabeth is a one-stop destination for large savannah animals as well as a variety of birds. It’s an unmissable stop for your roadtrip travel.
- Kidepo Valley National Park – Kidepo is in the far north of Uganda bordering South Sudan and will appeal for those looking for a wild, remote and off the beaten track experience when road tripping in Uganda. Its diverse landscape makes it home to almost 500 bird species and 77 different mammals. You’ll enjoy the chance of seeing little bee-eaters, ostriches, red-and-yellow barbets, kori bustards, and more. The birdlife in Kidepo is good year-round, but at its best from March to April for all the specials and the many migrants. The best time to see migrants and special birds is from March to April – however, bird viewing in Kidepo is fantastic year-round.
Special & Rare Bird Watching in Uganda
If you’re a die-hard bird watcher, you know that difficult journeys can yield a high reward. Here are a few places you can see Albertine Rift Endemic birds and other rare species.
- Semliki is the only true lowland tropical forest in East Africa, making it home to some very special species. Some of the bird life here is highly localized, so expect to see birds that you can’t find elsewhere. Semliki is home to the African openbill, great white pelicans, malachite kingfishers, and a range of other birds. Migratory birds also pass through from November to April, and breeding season for many birds here is in March. Semliki Safari Lodge will be able to provide more information.
- Budongo Rainforest - Budongo Forest is a prime destination for forest birding in Uganda, with over 360 species present. This forest is home to the “Royal Mile”, which is a popular birding trail. Here, you’re likely to see the Yellow-footed Flycatcher, Nahan’s Francolin, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Black-eared Groundthrush, Pygmy Crake, Black-winged Pratincole, Brown Twinspot, White-thighed Hornbill, Cassin’s Hawk Eagle, Dwarf and Kingfisher among many others. We’d recommend getting in touch with Budongo Eco Lodge for more information.
There are so many great destinations for bird watching in Uganda. From the most iconic birds in Uganda to the rarer species, birding safaris are a fun and unforgettable experience. We hope we inspired you to pack your bird field guide and binoculars!